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A food allergy refers to an immune system reaction to an ingested food. This type of immune reaction differs from that of a true allergy by being delayed rather than immediate. Delayed reactions involve IgG antibodies, whereas immediate reactions--characterized by itching and swelling due to the release of histamine--involve IgE antibodies. This distinction is noteworthy because most allergists do not test for delayed reactions, but rather test for the immediate variety of reactions. Skin testing cannot be used to identify delayed food allergies. Only a blood test can identify antibodies to foods. The symptoms of a food allergy are numerous and include IBS, migraine headaches, GERD, obesity, chronic sinusitis, dermatitis, asthma, fatigue, arthritis, and an increased susceptibility to illnesses.
Under normal circumstances when food is eaten, it is fully digested, absorbed into the bloodstream, and ultimately used by the body's cells. In a delayed food allergy, as the digested food proteins cross the wall of the intestine, white blood cells identify these proteins as being foreign. Antibodies attack the food and chemicals are released into the blood that can influence inflammatory and immune reactions throughout the body. Besides the secretion of these chemicals, antibodies can attach to the food proteins resulting in an antibody/food complex that travels the bloodstream until being scavenged by other immune system cells.
The net effect of food allergies is that your immune system is compromised by continually attacking the food you eat. This sort of misplaced directive not only wastes energy, but also alters the ability of the immune system to perform its functions. Perhaps more damaging is the intensification of inflammatory reactions throughout the body. It is this latter effect whereby asthma, air-borne allergies, chronic sinusitis, migraine headaches, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders can be attributed to food allergies.
To successfully treat food allergies, the allergic foods must be first identified.
- Eating the same foods in a repetitive fashion can cause food allergies. Under normal circumstances, some partially digested food proteins will find their way to the bloodstream. If the offensive food is eaten frequently, the amount of partially digested material is substantial. When this happens white blood cells will respond by secreting antibodies to that particular food. Over time, more and more antibodies will be secreted and an allergy will develop.
- A leaky gut syndrome can cause food allergies. Also known as intestinal hyperpermeability, leaky gut syndrome occurs when the intestinal wall loses its selective permeability. Normally, only small particles can cross the intestine into the bloodstream. This selectivity is to prevent the immune system from attacking the absorbed food. When the intestine is damaged, large particulate matter can pass into the blood-even bacteria from the intestine. Hence the gut becomes "leaky" and food allergies will result. Some medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (motrin, alleve, ibuprofen) can result in leaky gut syndrome.
- Improper digestion results from insufficient stomach acid or digestive enzymes. Foods will not be broken down into their smallest components resulting in the potential absorption of particles large enough to cause a food allergy.
This can be accomplished with an elimination diet, or with blood testing. Blood testing has the advantage of being quick and accurate. Two such tests that are commonly performed are the RAST (radioallergosorbent test) or the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoserological assay). There are numerous laboratories that specialize in this variety of procedure. For many years now I have used a Florida-based laboratory called ImmunoLab
that performs an ELISA test that is often covered by most insurance companies. Once the offensive foods are discovered, they should be eliminated for at least 3 months to allow the body to desensitize, after which time they can be added back into the diet, provided symptoms do not reoccur.
- A leaky gut syndrome can be elucidated with a simple urine test. If present, a leaky gut must be treated or the food allergies will never be effectively managed.
- By following a rotation diet, you may be able to prevent food allergies from reoccurring. Rotating foods is also a sensible way to get a diversity of nutrients necessary for a healthy body.
- If improper digestion is a problem, it can be identified with a complete stool analysis that looks for undigested foods. This test also looks at the numbers and types of bacteria and yeast present in the intestine. This is important, because a dysbiosis, or imbalance in the bacteria, can cause a leaky gut syndrome and hence food allergies.
- Plant enzymes can help breakdown proteins, fats, starches, and fibers, thereby improving digestion and minimizing food allergies.
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